The Brand New Deal

Another post at TPMCafe Book Club’s discussion of Eric Rauchway’s book, The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction:

The Brand New Deal, by Mark Thoma: I’d like to follow up on the discussion about a New New Deal, i.e. the need for an updated version of the New Deal to fit the modern economy. In the posts so far, there have been discussions of the types of policies Obama may implement (Card check? Health care reform?), and who will actually benefit from those policies relative to who ought to benefit. In particular, there have been cautions against limiting the recovery package to the typical “males in hard hats with families to support” image that many people seem to have in mind when thinking about stimulus policies.

As we think about a Brand New Deal, I think it’s important to recognize that the structure of families and households has changed considerably over time. The notion of a family was very different in the 1930s. Men were the bread winners, that was their responsibility to the household, and by and large, it was assumed that there was a spouse at home taking care of household needs and supporting this effort. Men who let down their families by losing a job, or who failed to provide for them adequately in other ways, were not fulfilling their proscribed social function.

The Great Depression upset this social norm. When the Great Depression hit, males could no longer fulfill this essential role. No matter how hard they tried, they could not find jobs and they could not give their families the economic security that society said they were responsible for providing. They had failed their families in a time of great need.

The New Deal, I think, did two things that stopped people from blaming themselves. […continue reading…]

Originally published at the Economist’s View and reproduced here with the author’s permission.